Diana Krall: Defiantly pop and proud of it

Ottawa Citizen: Peter Robb: 13th February 2015

If you pick up Diana Krall’s new album Wallflower, a good first play would be in the car late at night on a moonlit stretch of country highway.

That’s how I heard it for the first time and it was a great way to end a very long day.

Krall, who also likes to listen to music in the car, has produced an unabashed pop album featuring standards made famous by the likes of the Carpenters, The Eagles and Bob Dylan.

“It is a pop move. It is a completely pop record, unapologetically.

“I sat down with (producer) David Foster and I was very clear with him that if we were going to make a record, it was going to be a pop record and not a jazz record. It is a part of my life as well.

“I didn’t start out at 19 just playing jazz songs for six hours every night. I was playing Elton John songs and I played Desperado (the Linda Ronstadt song made famous by The Eagles).”

She also told Foster, she said , in a recent phone interview, that any request to add a jazz element to the tunes on this record was not going to happen.

“Door slam. I was very clear I did not want to make a jazz re-interpretation of new standards. I wanted to do songs that I knew when it was vinyl and radio, songs that I listened to with my peers. Songs that were popular before you could push a button and listen to snippets of something; when you actually turned the record over."

“It’s allowed; not everything has to be a jazz solo.”

This was a feisty Krall on the other end of the phone who seemed tired of fending off certain questions about the new CD. For those who wish to see her live, she’ll be at the NAC on May 31. Information: nac-cna.ca

Bob Dylan — whose song Wallflower is the title tune on Krall’s new CD and who has also just released an album of songs called Shadows in the Night written by other people and who is drawing some fire for it — seems to be facing the same sort of expectations.

“I am getting a lot of questions about Bob Dylan, more than I ever have,” says Krall. “In the past, I have had nothing original to add to anybody else’s opinions of him, but I think he was very wise in not putting piano on his record and using pedal steel instead, because it still sounds like Bob Dylan.

“He is singing the songs like he wrote them. I heard the record before it came out and I have had a long time to think about it. He’s given us something to think about — that dreadful word covers. I hate that word.

“Did Frank Sinatra sing covers? It’s just f*****g annoying. I think that Bob said he is ‘uncovering them.’ I’m doing all these press interviews and it’s like ‘you are doing all these covers’. I don’t think people mean any ill will when they say that, but I’m not trying to make The Eagles into Irving Berlin."

“It’s OK to sing and interpret music.”

This has been a controversy since jazz began, she said, and then she followed up with this remark:

“I am not a jazz singer. I don’t consider myself a jazz singer. I was born to play the piano and swing really hard, play with emotion and really feel the story (behind the song) or to just swing and play flim-flam songs.

“I’m still going to do what I usually do … find songs that I feel strongly about and then we’ll work on them.”

Another aspect of the new CD is the fact that she only plays piano on a few songs. Krall says she resisted when Foster said she should play more. As a result Foster is on piano on many of the tunes with Krall on vocals alone. And that, too, is drawing unwelcome attention.

“Oh my god she’s not playing the piano, is she moving away from jazz? Let them ponder away."

“I’m not given credit for my artistic choices; somehow there is this ‘committee’ making them for me. I was just trying to make a beautiful record amidst all the chaos that is going on in my life.”

Krall has been battling some personal issues. She was forced to delay this record and cancel a tour because of a serious bout of pneumonia and just in December, her beloved father passed away.

“I was really relieved to just relax and sing songs that I know and love and have someone else take over the piano parts and not have to be in control so much."

“I was able to tune the shower knob to the perfect temperature,” she says, in a reference to the British comedian Eddie Izzard’s Turney Button things. Krall considers Izzard, whose comedy embraces everything from Greek and Roman history to household appliances, to be a major influence.

While she is still hurting from the death of her father, she does say she is doing well these days. When she was sick and could not sing, things were a bit tense.

“When you express yourself through music and singing, losing that ability is pretty serious. I kind of walked around the house with a screwdriver fixing all the loose cupboards. I wallpapered every room, rearranged the furniture and tried on every brassiere in my underwear drawer.” But she also learned something during the enforced hiatus, which is giving her confidence today.

“I learned a big lesson. I had to cancel an entire year, an entire album release and an entire tour, which I had never had to do before and my sister told me look on Facebook at people’s reactions (to the cancellation) and there was nothing but good will, ‘get better’ and super kind wishes.”

At 50, Krall has come to terms with her success.

“Success doesn’t get in the way — bring it on. I enjoy my success now; I don’t feel entitled, I feel privileged that I have it."

“I am a pretty down-to-earth person. It drives me crazy when I get this old ‘cool Ice Queen thing.’ Weren’t you Googling something from 20 years ago, when I was so shy that I couldn’t speak? Today I have a hard enough time not jumping from idea to idea."

“I think you have the right to have feelings about things.”

And she believes life shouldn’t get too serious.

That’s why she and her eight-year-old twin boys and husband Elvis Costello watch Charlie Chaplin movies every Sunday night and learn that very serious things can be fun.

 

 

Still there is a photograph on the back of the Wallflower CD that may belie that remark about fun. It shows Krall, who also watches a lot of Woody Allen movies, with a worried, pensive, angst-ridden Annie Hall kind of look. Despite all her success and all her accolades, her desire to have fun, and her new confidence, she says, “that’s how I am most of the time.

“Thank God Bryan Adams knows me well enough to capture that. I was really happy to see that.”